Dover is bowled over by local boy’s glittery paper dolls.
by Donalevan Maines
“Glitter and Be Gay” isn’t just the title of a great aria that showcases Cunégonde, the temptress in Leonard Bernstein’s opera Candide. The phrase also gives voice to Gregg Nystrom’s first book, Golden Age of Hollywood Paper Dolls with Glitter! (Dover, 2013).
When OutSmart discovered the Clear Lake City artist in 2006, we predicted that when Nystrom’s ship came in, it would be decked out in baubles and beads. That’s because Nystrom decorated his miniature renderings of Hollywood glamour-pusses with extras like glitzy laces and metallic ribbons that gave them a 3-D effect.
However, as the new golden boy of Dover Publications, Nystrom’s paper dolls are confined to just two dimensions, except for the “glitter” in the book’s title. “I had to do everything flat and two-dimensional for the book, but they incorporated glitter into the print job,” explains Nystrom. The process is state-of-the-art, as befits Dover’s first-rate reputation as the world’s number-one publisher of paper dolls and reprints of classic literature, sheet music, and texts for mathematics, science, and engineering.
The book is featured on Amazon.com, which describes Golden Age of Hollywood Paper Dolls with Glitter! as “flashy paper dolls” that “depict sixteen stars of the silver screen, each with a sparkling costume enhanced by a dash of glitter.”
The artwork includes Nystrom’s meticulous renderings of Marilyn Monroe as Lorelei in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, and Audrey Hepburn in the title role of 1954’s Sabrina, along with Greta Garbo in a costume from Susan Lennox: Her Rise and Fall (1931); Jean Harlow (Dinner for Eight, 1933); Marlene Dietrich (Seven Sinners, 1940); Veronica Lake (I Wanted Wings, 1941); Lana Turner (Johnny Eager, 1942); Rita Hayworth (Cover Girl, 1944); Elizabeth Taylor (Elephant Walk, 1954); Grace Kelly (To Catch a Thief, 1955); Gina Lollobrigida (Trapeze, 1956); Kim Novak (Pal Joey, 1957); Sophia Loren (A Breath of Scandal, 1960); and Brigitte Bardot and Deborah Kerr wearing gowns in publicity photos from the 1950s.
If some of those roles seem obscure, just wait until you hear what Nystrom is currently creating for Dover. Golden Age of Hollywood Paper Dolls with Glitter! had barely hit the shelves when the publisher called on April 1 to ask, “What should we do next?” Nystrom suggested a paper-doll book of B-movie bombshells, and Dover agreed, sending the artist to his archive of movies, books, and photos of Jayne Mansfield, Anita Ekberg, Mamie Van Doren, and their contemporaries.
In 2006, Nystrom was working in accounting at the Greensheet, an advertising newspaper in downtown Houston, when OutSmart first learned of his prowess as a paper-doll artist and inserted a photograph of him in a red-carpet illustration with his renderings of Jean Harlow, Veronica Lake, Mae West, and Josephine Baker. The next summer, he and his partner, hairstylist Karry Fuller, attended their first Original Paper Doll Artists Guild (OPDAG) convention in San Antonio. Nexy month, Nystrom and Fuller are attending the guild’s thirtieth annual conclave, which Los Angeles is hosting August 27–September 1. (The 1997 convention of this national collective of paper-doll artists and collectors was held in Houston.)
“Most of the men in the guild are gay,” explains Nystrom. “But most collectors are women. Most men at the convention are either gay or they’re the husband of a woman who is a collector.”
Conventioneers quickly fell in love with Nystrom’s lifelike, haunting images of bygone beauties, and his rich, painterly attention to detail and expression. They found them unforgettable. “People do like my likenesses,” he humbly admits.
Nystrom’s work was featured locally and in several paper-doll periodicals before he burst onto the national scene, landing as the featured artist in the Winter 2011 edition of Fashion Doll Quarterly.
Dover sent a talent scout to the 2011 OPDAG convention in Philadelphia, where Nystrom had wisely honored the city’s best-known beauty, Grace Kelly, with a paper-doll drawing of her as costumed by Edith Head in the 1954 Alfred Hitchcock classic Rear Window. “The representative from Dover looked at my originals, then he had me e-mail a bunch of work for him to show his supervisors,” says Nystrom. The back-and-forth resulted in his first book contract. “I got a flat fee for the art. It was a nice figure. Each time I agree to do a book, they pay me, but I don’t see any royalties.”
Next, Nystrom signed to draw B-movie bombshells for Dover, which is capitalizing on its investment by flirting with future assignments for Nystrom.
After signing the first book contract with Dover, Nystrom and Fuller transformed a spare bedroom in their Clear Lake home into a studio with a drawing board, four bookcases, an armoire, and a combination television set and DVD player. “It’s really nice. I can sit and draw for hours,” says Nystrom.
“I have hundreds of movie books and fashion books that I use as reference materials,” he explains. “With the DVD player, I can pop in a movie and help refresh my memory on what color a dress was in a particular scene.”
Such attention to detail has elevated Nystrom to the level of success he’s achieved so far, and a name and reputation that grows with each OPDAG convention.
“It all started with OutSmart,” he says.
Donalevan Maines also writes about Jordan Fife Hunt, who plays the gay Puerto Rican dancer in A Chorus Line at Miller Outdoor Theatre this month.